What My E-mail Inbox Taught Me About Lean

Minitab Blog Editor 03 April, 2012

My husband said to me the other day, “You talk about being Lean all the time, but your e-mail inbox is definitely not Lean!”

I have to admit, I tend to keep things around just in case I might need them down the road. I keep coupons I might use for months beyond expiration, every piece of high school and college memorabilia I’ve come to acquire, and of course almost every e-mail sent to me.

According to Lean methodology, too much inventory has the potential to hide problems. For example, a company with too much inventory might neglect to see that a machine on the process line is malfunctioning or that there is too much machine downtime in one area of the process.

Keeping my inbox inventory high might cause me to miss seeing and acting on an important e-mail! So why don’t I throw in the towel and just delete all of my old messages, or at least sort important messages into folders? In the name of being Lean, this is what I should do, right?

However, I rely on old email messages to gather information quite frequently, and the process of sorting and deleting 3,000+ messages just isn’t a solution that adds a whole lot of value for me. In fact, sorting my emails to make finding old emails easier doesn’t even seem to make sense—especially considering that I’ve been effectively using my email client’s search feature to quickly pull up old emails right when I need them.

The potential for mistakenly ignoring an important email due to my inbox clutter is not outweighed by the huge amount of time I would have to spend deleting and sorting! And here is where I think my cluttered inbox actually ends up demonstrating an important Lean tactic: process improvement should be strategic and in line with the main objectives of your Lean initiative.

While my cluttered inbox could probably benefit from a little bit of inventory management, keeping all those old messages is actually important to me because I frequently rely on old messages for information. Improving my email inbox is not be the best use of my time in this case, especially when there are other process improvement projects that could give me “more bang for my buck”—like improving my household processes for doing laundry or loading the dishwasher.

There’s usually an opportunity to improve every process, but the tricky part is prioritizing quality improvement projects and choosing to focus on the projects that will give you the most value for your effort.

Prioritizing improvement projects can easily be done by making a list and talking through the potential impacts of each project with your Lean Six Sigma team. You can also complete a project prioritization matrix by plotting potential projects against their weight value, based upon predefined metrics. Companion by Minitab includes a great project prioritization matrix form, along with a host of other soft tools for Lean and Six Sigma projects.

project prioritization matrix

For more information about how to complete a project prioritization matrix, check out this post:

How Can I Start my Lean Six Sigma Initiative?